I have multiple interests that occasionally bleed over the borders of the Twelve Mile Circle where they happen to merge with geography. That often includes an historical context that strays into more personal history in the form of genealogy. I’ve spent a lot of my free time on genealogy lately as I prepare for the public release of individual 1940 U.S. Census Records on on April 2, 2012 (they are held for 72 years, by law). That’s how I found myself adding a few remaining 1930 records, the latest ones currently available, in anticipation of the availability of 1940 records in a few weeks.
A tangential relative of mine lived in Alhambra, California in 1930. He was a carpenter, having moved to California a few years earlier after spending most of his life as a rancher in southern Colorado. He moved into a working-class home valued a $4,500. The house still stands:
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The address? 124 Electric Avenue. Why does that matter? Because of that 1982 pop recording by Eddy Grant, "Electric Avenue," of course. It’s been stuck in my head ever since and I can’t get it out. You know the one I’m talking about (and if you don’t there’s always YouTube but be warned it might work its way into your brain);
We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we’ll take it higher
It wouldn’t be so bad, I suppose, if that particular song didn’t already annoy the bejesus out of me as it has since the very first moment I heard it. I’m know that many people like it — the song hit #2 on the charts in the United Kingdom and the United States — and I don’t begrudge anyone who does, and I don’t need a pile of hate mail from offended Eddy Grant fans. Surely, however, everyone has a song that grates on one’s nerves for whatever completely irrational reason? This one is mine. That’s all I’m saying; no offense intended.
I decided that the best way to exorcise this from my mind would be to check into the geography of Electric Avenue. Is Electric Avenue the fictional construct of a songwriter, or is it a real place? Perhaps then I could dislodge it from my head.
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The Electric Avenue referenced in Eddy Grant’s song is real. It can be found in the Brixton area of London, England, a part of the Brixton Market. The street name derives from a very simple explanation: it was one of the first market streets in the area lit by electricity. The market along Electric Avenue dates to the late Victorian era when electricity began to make its public debut, and would have been considered a novelty. Notice further that Electric Avenue intersects with Electric Lane. Clearly, they wished to impress shoppers with their electrified street grid.
Demographics in Brixton changed considerably by the time Mr. Grant wrote his 1982 hit. Brixton and surrounding Lambeth neighborhoods housed large concentrations of recent African and Caribbean immigrants. Poor living conditions, crime, unemployment and a prolonged recession contributed to racial tensions that sparked rioting in Brixton in 1981, as memorialized by the lyrics:
Down in the street there is violence
And a lots of work to be done
No place to hang out our washing
And I can’t blame all on the sun, oh no
That’s about as intellectual as the lyrics get. Incidentally, the Clash’s "Guns of Brixton" predates the riot in case you were wondering (1979 – I checked).
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Ironically, Electric Avenue wasn’t one of the primary areas involved in the rioting.
I discovered several other Electric Avenues located in various English-speaking countries. They are very difficult to find because they’re drowned out by the song in various search engine queries. There are probably many more that I couldn’t find through clutter.
- Electric Avenue, Nottingham, East Midlands, England (map) – has a nice electrical tower.
- Electric Avenue, Birmingham, West Midlands, England (map) – about an hour away from the one in Nottingham.
- Electric Avenue, Glenroy, Victoria, Australia (map) – somehow appropriate that work is being done on the power lines.
- Electric Avenue, Los Angeles, California, USA (map) – just steps from Venice Beach.
The United Kingdom wins the award for the most Electric Avenues in my highly unscientific sample. Los Angeles gets a special mention for having two in a single metropolitan area, with Venice Beach and Alhambra. Feel free to add more if you know them.